Donny Hathaway, thunderstorms, etc
Thinking on mothers, perfect music and Dutch weather
Hello, I love you, and I know Taali Talk is a little late this Sunday, but I have a very good excuse.
Here is my excuse: It took me a while to write this today, because I was intent on finishing a very excellent/chaotic puzzle that José bought. The puzzle is called “Where’s Prince?” and it is perfect. It is missing one piece, but is still worth showing.
Greatest. Puzzle Ever. Aka can you blame me? Na. I thought so. Anyway, it’s finished now, and also happy Sunday. Depending on the experiences you’ve had, today could be mother’s day. If this isn’t a day that rings true for you, I am sending you my love and will only spend a second on the next bit.
Because on my end, I am indeed celebrating the forever goddess that is my mother, Marcy. Please enjoy her and and my dad looking absurdly cool below.
I’ll be heading back to New York soon to really toast her (and to record! this! album?!), but for now I’m doing it from afar. And though Marcy is famous for her love of the outdoors, I’m celebrating her by staying inside, because the Netherlands decided to be just exceedingly Netherlands-y with its weather today.
If you aren’t familiar with Amsterdam-ian weather, perhaps I can offer you some anthropomorphisms to help you understand. Amsterdam weather often feels akin to:
1) A gloriously hormonal teenager just trying to blast their music thank you very much in a house of six people who just don’t UNDERSTAND THEM OKAY
2) A toddler struggling with - ooh! shiny! - the rules - food! - who can’t communicate - ball! - and - TANTRUM - really wishes he/she/they could talk - big yawn! - but is also very cute
Yes, I understand this weather, aka a phenomenon I’ve only experienced, up until now, in … myself. This country’s weather moves as quickly as my moods, and I therefore maintain a deep and knowing love for it.
Today, for example, is 75 degrees, following yesterday’s icy 35. So far we have had: Gorgeous sunny skies, wind so powerful tree branches are coming off, shade so dark it seemed like the wicked witch might be coming, absolute hail and brimstone thunder and lightning storms, regular gray skies, gray skies with the sun coming out, and, my personal favorite, half stormy half completely blue skies.
Like I said. Man do I feel you, Netherlands weather.
I’ve been sitting in our big bay window on the world’s comfiest chair, watching the weather do its dance and thinking about songs. I know this might seem redundant after a lot of weeks together, but I truly love songs so much. When I first started teaching my university seminar, I realized that my obsession with song form might not be universal, so I made a playlist. It is very good and you should have it too.
Ideally I wanted the playlist to capture as many possibilities for song forms as the students could possibly want to write. On the first day of class we listened to most of the songs together. This was a real joy, because I am fairly confident I’m the only teacher at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam jazz department to ever blast Dolly Parton followed by Kendrick Lamar followed by Paul Simon followed by Beyoncé. It felt good, my friend. It felt great.
The playlist begins with my golden era forever favorite, You’ve Got A Friend. A classic song so perfect in lyric, melody and form that it needs just one verse, one chorus, and one knock your socks off/take your breath away bridge. A bridge so good it makes you think, almost always these days, that you really, really don’t need a bridge. Because who on earth could ever touch Carole’s. (Carole herself, that’s who. On (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman). And maybe The Beatles, on Oh Darling. And let me know if I missed anything.
Anyway. I included both Carole King and Donny Hathaway’s version, side by side.
I remember the exact moment I discovered Donny’s version. For whatever reason, likely my ADHD and generation of growing up post physical but pre streaming music, I had only listened to snippets of Donny’s catalogue and no full albums till then. So when You’ve Got A Friend (Live at the Bitter End) came on KCRW, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I mean it, y’all. Out of nowhere like a Netherlands thunder shower. Tears started blurring my vision. Los Angeles drivers were very annoyed and began honking. I pulled my little baby Iris over on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Angeles and I wept.
I wept for possibility. I wept for beauty, I wept for the microcosm of America at its best in three and a half minutes. An Ashkenazi Jewish New Yorker’s song interpreted and made worlds better by epic Black American Music excellence. I’m gonna include it here, just in case you haven’t heard it (what a day for you if so!). It is the greatest ever.
His brilliance. His soul. His mastery. His BAND. Pay attention, too, to the audience in the recording. Their absolutely magical joy, their perfect pitch.
Marcy got me into soul. She used to blast Stevie Wonder, her all time favorite, and dance around while she made dinner. It’s one of my most magical memories.
There’s a lot going on today, and this week, and this year, and this life we’re all in, but today I’m thankful for her and my other mother figures, Carole included. Here she is, looking like a real relative of mine.
Whether you’re celebrating your mother, stepmother, grandmother, mentor, or a figure who helped you be where you are, I hope you’re feeling loved. They helped get you where you are, and I’m really glad they did, because you are wonderful. Thanks for being here with me today. See you next week.
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